Certain diseases, but also an unhealthy lifestyle, increase the risk of retinal eye diseases. Damage to the retina can lead to blindness in the worst case.
A disease of the retina can manifest itself in different forms. In many cases, the symptoms only appear at an advanced stage. Nevertheless, there are things you can do yourself to minimize risk and prevent damage.
What is the job of the retina?
The retina, in Latin retina, allows vision. The retina lines the back wall of the eyeball. Everything we see passes through the lens of the eye to the retina and is imaged there. Photosensitive cells in the retina convert incoming stimuli, such as colors and brightness, into electrical signals and send them to the brain. The brain receives the signals and processes them. In the center of the retina is the macula, in Latin macula lutea, the place of the sharpest vision.
Above the macula, also known as the yellow spot, is a tiny depression: the fovea. Thanks to this depression, in which there is the highest concentration of sensory cells in the retina, we can also perceive the smallest details. The macula and the fovea are the most important parts of the retina. We see less well with the rest of the retina. The stimuli that arrive there and are transmitted to the brain in the form of signals serve rather for orientation.
Retinal detachment can lead to blindness
Vision is not possible without a healthy retina. For example, if the retina detaches, there is a risk of blindness if an eye doctor does not treat it quickly. Symptoms of retinal detachment include distorted vision, loss of visual field, flashes of light, and soot rain. This means that affected individuals often first perceive flashes of light, blackheads and flakes in front of their eyes, followed by an increase in visual field defects.
Soot rain is caused by bleeding inside the eye, called the vitreous body, caused by tears in the retinal vessels. Flashes of light are caused by pulling forces acting on the retina from the vitreous body. There are several medical conditions associated with an increased risk of retinal damage, including diabetes mellitus, high myopia, and ocular vein thrombosis.
Diabetic retinopathy due to diabetes mellitus
Diabetes mellitus is considered an important risk factor for retinal damage. If the blood sugar level is permanently too high, the fine blood vessels in the retina are attacked. They lose their elasticity and become brittle. Vascular swellings and minor bleeding may occur. Deposits can also form, which clog the vessels. The insidious thing is that affected individuals initially do not notice any of these changes in the eye. Symptoms only appear in the advanced stages of the disease, such as impaired visual acuity, disturbed sense of color, distorted or blurred vision, and difficulty reading.
If larger areas of the retina are poorly supplied with blood, new, malformed blood vessels can form in the later stages of the disease – from which it can bleed and lead to scarring. The pull on the retina can become so great that it partially or completely detaches from the back of the eye. Then, symptoms of retinal detachment appear. If diabetic retinopathy is not recognized until late, severe visual impairment and even blindness can result.
Regular check-ups for diabetic patients
Retinal changes are among the most common vascular complications of diabetes: “Even if ‘diabetes’ is properly controlled, it definitely reduces the risk of secondary retinal damage, but diabetic retinal damage can still occur and cannot be avoided with certainty,” says Dr. Georg Spital, retina expert at the Eye Center at St. Franziskus Hospital in Münster.
“The occurrence of retinal damage also becomes more likely with increasing duration of the disease. Regular ophthalmological examination with pupil dilation to examine the retina is therefore urgently recommended for people with healthy vision and is recommended at least once a year for most affected people.”
If retinal changes related to diabetes are already known, visual disturbances occur or if there are special situations with an increased risk of diabetic retinal damage, such as phases of readjustment of blood sugar or pregnancy, experts say that Shorter term controls are indicated. “The good news is that the ophthalmologist now has many treatment options, and visual impairment due to diabetes is usually preventable,” says Spital.
Risk of retinal detachment in myopia
The risk of retinal detachment is also increased with myopia. The reason: myopia occurs in most cases because the eyeball has “enlarged too much”. This change in the elongated shape of the eyeball causes pulling forces on the retina. At the same time, due to this change, the eyeball has thinner walls than in a normal eye – the retina is also thinner and therefore more sensitive and susceptible to damage such as retinal holes, which can lead to retinal detachment.
“The risk of retinal detachment in myopia of -3 to -6 diopters is already about ten times higher than in eyes with normal vision”, specifies Spital. “Therefore, nearsighted people should have their eyes checked once a year to be on the safe side. Regular eye checks are also recommended for nearsighted people as they have a higher risk of other eye diseases.”
Vascular occlusions on the retina: the biggest enemies of the retina
Thrombosis can also form in the eye, which are blockages in the retinal veins that allow blood to flow out of the retina. Doctors speak of ocular vein thrombosis. If a retinal vein is partially narrowed or completely blocked, blood flow is disrupted. The disruption of blood flow can also lead to bleeding and swelling in the affected area of the retina. Depending on the position and size of the occluded vein, this results in acute deterioration of vision in the affected eye, either in the entire field of vision or in part of the field of vision.
medical doctor Georges Hospital is a retina specialist at the eye center of St. Franziskus Hospital in Münster. The expert’s areas of interest include hereditary retinal degeneration, diabetic retinal diseases, intravitreal injection (IVOM) and age-related macular degeneration. Spital is a member of the professional association of ophthalmologists in Germany. V. (BVA) and secretary general of the initiative group for the early detection of diabetic eye diseases (IFDA).
The course of ocular vein thrombosis is unpredictable
The exact course of ocular venous thrombosis cannot be predicted. Visual acuity recovers in some affected individuals, while reduced visual acuity remains in others. In many cases, repeated ophthalmologic treatment is indicated if swelling, so-called central retinal edema, has occurred. In such cases, vision can often be significantly improved by repeated injections into the eye. If there is a complete failure of the entire retinal blood flow in the area of occlusion, the depicted eye becomes permanently blind.
“In patients with vascular occlusions in the eye, the same risk factors are often the cause that can also be found in vascular occlusions in other areas of the body, for example in the heart as part of arteriosclerosis. These include high blood pressure, diabetes mellitus, excessive blood lipids, smoking, obesity, lack of exercise and insufficient fluid intake,” explains the retina expert.
“In the eye itself, increased intraocular pressure, poorly controlled glaucoma or a bleeding disorder can promote vascular occlusions. vascular risk factors and signs of arteriosclerosis in addition to the eye examination This allows, for example, to identify an impending stroke or heart attack and to take appropriate preventive measures in time.”
Here’s how the retina stays healthy longer: seven tips
The example of venous thrombosis shows that a healthy lifestyle can help keep the retina healthy. These seven tips will help you:
- standard weight: Being overweight is associated with, among other things, an increased risk of high blood pressure, diabetes mellitus, arteriosclerosis and increased blood lipid levels – all risk factors that also put stress on the retina.
- Regular exercise: Anyone who exercises regularly supports a healthy body weight, strengthens the cardiovascular system, trains blood vessels, stimulates blood circulation and improves the supply of oxygen to the body – and the retina also benefits.
- Healthy eating: A balanced diet that is as fresh as possible with a good proportion of vegetables, fruits, legumes and whole grain products provides the body with important nutrients such as vitamins, minerals and secondary plant substances – and the eyes also benefit.
- no smoking: The toxins contained in cigarettes promote vascular damage, inflammatory reactions and worsen blood circulation and therefore the supply of nutrients and oxygen to the eyes.
- Drink: Be sure to drink fluids regularly. The German Nutrition Society (DGE) recommends that healthy adults consume 1.5 liters of fluid per day – preferably in the form of water, unsweetened tea and diluted fruit juice. Alcohol only in moderation: Regular consumption of alcohol promotes damage, especially to the optic nerves.
- Use sunglasses: Too much UV light can also cause permanent damage to the lens and retina.
- Ophthalmological checks: Have your eyes checked regularly by an ophthalmologist. In case of sudden vision impairment, you should consult an ophthalmologist immediately. With certain risk factors, such as diabetes, high blood pressure or high myopia, health checks are important even if there are no visual disturbances.
Ophthalmological checks can also diagnose age-related macular degeneration. AMD is one of the most common causes of vision problems in the elderly. The part of the retina responsible for the sharpness of vision perishes: the macula. Distorted vision can be a possible early symptom and should be checked by an eye doctor.